How To Find And Work With A Good Designer/Developer

george

A couple of weeks back I wrote about dysfunctional web designers/developers. Today we’ll discuss how to actually find a and work with agood one. I guess first, you can start out by not calling them dysfunctional.

I’ve been managing projects and designers for 13+ years and it’s tough for me to find a good worker, so imagine what it’s like for someone with no experience. Like your client. Below is some good advice for both client and business owner.

If you want your project to run smoothly and on time, don’t outsource. Make sure the company you are using doesn’t outsource. Whilst the price might be cheaper going overseas, the addage, “cheap is expensive” resonates loudly. I’m not suggesting you HAVE to go local (but like your vegetables, always try) but at the very least, keep it in the country. At worst you’re only dealing with a 3 hour time difference (and a 6 hour flight!).

Check their portfolio. This might seem obvious, but more than just looking at the screen shots of their design, go to the actual site and see if A) it works, does it make sense. Do the sites look and function the way you would want your site to look and function? If you happen to find a site you like, use it as an example. It’s always best to give a designer one of their own portfolio pieces as a guidline.

If you want to go a step further (and why wouldn’t you, it’s your money) contact the owners of the websites the company created. Send over a quick email asking them how their overall experience was with the company and if they were they on time as well as ethical.

I have heard a lot of stories of designers holding on to files, or asking for more money half way through a project. Asking for more money to do more work is fine, if you discussed it with your client before you started the work. You can’t just stop all work or get your knickers in a knot because you didn’t properly communicate the site’s scope. At least give the client plenty of upfront warning of any new charges, and why you’re charging them.

Finally, don’t hire your neighbor’s cousin.

So now that you have found your perfect designer – how do you talk to them? Typically, The first rule of fight club…you don’t.

When clients and designers speak it’s like 2 George’s colliding. It always helps if there’s a project manager involved to act as a translator although there are no gurantees.

If you decide to forgo the project manager and work directly with a designer (which is like trying to sell your own home) there are a few things you need to know: As the client: Be specific. If you think you are being too specific. Be more so. Provide examples wherever possible. If you like a certain color, get the exact #hex code. What is a hex code? http://www.colorpicker.com/ Looking for blue? What shade, what tone?

Send ONE email only. Of course this is impossible, but you absolutely MUST refrain from sending a stream of 15 “consciousness emails”. Gather all your thoughts and notes in one email and send it off. You might be told otherwise, but you are not their only client so emails add up and the more emails, the more likely something gets missed.

Be patient. Dear God, be patient. Putting together a website with design, integration, content, testing and training can be exhaustive as well as frustrating. What you can’t do, is take out your frustrations with the guy designing your site. The best thing you can do for yourself is allow for at least 2-3 days margin of error. If your guy tells you it’ll be done Monday, expect it Thursday. Design and development is not an exact science, so be realistic with the deadlines.

Right click not write click. Make sure you and your “guy” are speaking the same language. I was speaking with an insurance client and we were talking about apps for 5 minutes before I realized she was referring to actual down loadable online applications for users to fill out and submit, and not a mobile application. IP is another one that comes to mind. Intellectual property v. Internet Protocol. These are the more obvious ones. If your designer is using words you don’t understand, make them explain to you what they’re talking about. Being properly informed helps everyone.

Don’t pretend you know more than you do. It’s like being in Rome and asking, in your broken Italian, for directions only to have them hurl out an entire 5 minute response, without taking a breath. In other words, don’t clutter the table. Let your designer do their job. After all, you did all this research to find them, so give them room to work.

Don’t be unrealistic. Everything good takes time. Be appreciative. Good designers are sensitive creatures. Most importantly, pay on time. Don’t wait 30 days to pay. Pay upon receipt.

Contracts? We Don’t Need No Stinking Contracts…

contracts

When I first started my empire…I didn’t use contracts.  “My email is the contract” I would foolishly claim (to no one).

Because I never cared much for “corporate” I wanted to try a different business model.  A model apparently, no one else uses… a business model that would eventually fail miserably.  Please, allow me to explain:

My big thing when talking with clients is to make them feel comfortable.  Help them understand that you’re easily accessible. I would tell clients, there’s no red tape, no lengthy, “login to submit trouble ticket” to deal with, none of that.  “Pay the fee and we’ll build you a website” was pretty much the deal.

But the main reason I never used contracts – it was just another hurdle to go through before getting the job.  You want to close that deal and get your 50% down payment.  Rent and payroll are due in a couple of days.  You don’t have time to wait for your client to print out, sign, scan and email back a signatured copy of a contract.  Let alone for them to read and scrutinize it.  That could take days!  You don’t have that kind of time. You’ll worry about the details later.  Right?!

Later eventually comes around and there you are, 20 hours over scope and no one to blame but yourself.  The client just said, “build us a gallery.”  But they didn’t mention anything about 200 pics, but nor did you.  So now you’re faced with the decison – do you bring it up to the client? You can.  But there’s no contract.  You can make them pay you an extra couple/few hundred bucks, but they’ll hate you for it and they certainly won’t trust you anymore.  They won’t trust you because you never told them when, what or where any extra charges would be.  So now you’re just past the midway point and both sides are already miserable.

So if that ever happens to you, where the client gives you a nice little surprise, you have to eat it.  Tie always goes to the runner.  They didn’t know to tell you about the ergregious amount of pics, because you didn’t ask or make it clear.  Of course there’s a line where you can tell the client extra charges will be incurred…but that can only be done AFTER you have already given them XX hours of free service.  You need to list everything you have done that you feel is outside the scope, and let them know from that point on they will be subject to your hourly rate of XX/hr.  But in the meantime, you’re making yourself sick wondering how to approach the client and how to broach the matter of extra fees.

All this could be avoided if you learn from my foolishness and set yourself up with a nice, simple contract. Clients want to know what they can expect.  And if your client is over 35, they’ll certainly understand the necessity of contracts and perhaps even question why you would work without one.  Waiting the extra day or two for a signed contract is nothing when compared to the headaches you’ll go through after spending weeks fixing or adding components that were never properly discussed or agreed upon.

Putting together a solid contract takes time.  Every error or oversight you encounter with a client, is one more item to add.  Just when you think you have all the items lined up, you soon find out that the client is using a 5 year old version of IE… so now you get to add a browser compatibility clause in your next contract!

So save yourself the years of costly oversights HERE is a good place to start putting one together.

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Responding To Emails: The Bueller Effect

the bueller effect

Last week we discussed managing dysfunctional employees. Not so much how to deal with them because  you don’t. You fire them and move on. It was more about how to spot one, how we all have had to deal with one and their negative impact on your business.

This week, we discuss the “Bueller effect”.

You send an email to your developer asking for an update, but get no answer. The Bueller effect.

You’re certain they got the email, you’re pretty sure they read the email, but for some freakin’ reason they just don’t respond.  The Bueller effect.

Why? Is it their way of telling you to ‘eff off? Do they think you have nothing better to do with your time then to ask for updates? No one really knows the answer because no one really knows what goes on inside the head of a designer/developer. They live in their own world and don’t seem to understand why deadlines might be important.

There’s nothing worse than not being able to give your paying client an update. So if you’re boss, employer, client or contractor asks for an update, give them one. Take 5 minutes and kindly let them know where you are and when you hope to be finished. Don’t wait until they’ve emailed you 5 times, by then they’re going to be pretty pissed off so it’ll be tougher getting them to understand why you’re behind on their project…again.

Even if you’re not asked for an update, give them one anyway. Keep your client informed and prepared. If it’s a project that is measured in months, weekly updates should be standard. If it’s a shorter 3-4 week project then only a couple of updates are necessary. The client simply wants to know what’s going on. Don’t wait for them to email you. That’s like trying to stay hydrated and only drinking water when thirsty. It’s too late. Be preemptive.

Do your best to pad your delivery date. If you’re guy tells you it’ll be ready in a week, tell your clients it’ll be ready in 3 weeks. Playing this game certainly makes forecasting pretty impossible and will stretch your limits, but it’ll save you a lot of groveling and apologizing for circumstances that are out of your control.

So if you’re developer isn’t cooperating with you by not giving you updates, don’t worry, it’ll be his turn to panic when you don’t respond to his emails about payment.

Managing Your Employees

managing employees

I was told that unless you are paying for a guy to physically come into an office and work, you, as the employer, have no control over them.  In other words, you can’t expect freelancers to be accountable.  This statement of course was made by an unaccountable freelancer.  And by unaccountable I mean, having little to no communication in the form of updates or deliverables throughout the course of a project. This of course makes managing a project, or running an efficient business impossible.  If your designer or developer can’t manage their own time, how can you expect them to help manage yours?

Managing a really good web designer, is analogous to managing for Keith Richards. You know the end product is always gonna be fantastic, but the work involved just to get them to that point.  Dear God.  The coddling involved. Can you imagine trying to get Keef on stage in time for a gig back in the 70′s? Can you imagine trying to get him to do anything during the 70′s?! The absolute dysfunction.  It’s enough to drive you nuts.

So having a place for your employees to come in and do their work, chained to a desk means nothing when it comes to accountability.  All it means is you actually can see if they show up or not. Whether or not they actually “show up” is another story all together.  It’s about integrity.  If you’re not going to do what is required, then you’re not going to do what is required.  Beit working from your home office, Starbucks or Dunder Mifflin. Whether your boss is down the hall, or 2000 miles away, if you don’t feel like following process, you’re not going to.  Instead, you’ll drive everyone around you into the ground.  They’ll work with you because you are good, but being good or being great only takes you so far.  People around you will eventually tire of coddling you and, they’ll find someone else just as good who also understands process. Someone who understands running a business. Being an awesome designer doesn’t make you like Keith Richards, only just as dysfunctional.